An annual highlight: The Boiler Room stage at Dekmantel Festival
Since our inaugural festival, Boiler Room have hosted the fifth area of the festival. We ask Boiler Room presenter, walking music encyclopaedia, and social media mischief-maker Gabriel Szatan to reflect on the co-operation that goes into this labour of love, and 2018’s formidable bill.
Words by Gabriel Szatan. We advise to click on 'read-mode' when opening on your mobile device.
As Boiler Room enters its ninth summer in existence, and sixth overall with a presence at Dekmantel Festival, it’s a good time to reflect on why it works quite so well. I have fond memories of watching Xosar and Truss demolish the very first broadcast from Amsterdam Bos – from the comfort of my own bedroom, as a fan. That was back in 2013, I got sucked up into BR HQ the following year, and now I get to model bandanas in Holland every August. I also send emails to some of my favourite acts and convince them to goof around with their records on camera too. Funny how things can change.
Speaking from personal experience within the fortress, synergetic partnerships can prove hard to forge, and harder to maintain. Too often they’re less than the sum of the parts, as concessions are made and creative corners are cut; you muddle through, but knowing it could be so much more. I can say with honesty that our stage with Dekmantel is at once the most minutely precise, massively time-consuming, and magnificently rewarding thing in our calendar. It is the absolute ap(h)ex …We Care Because You Do.
This year sees more appearances that you can’t get anywhere else at the festival, an added incentive to what is already – if you’ll allow the sin of pride – three days of music more varied and left-field than any yet. I like to joke that I message the Dekmantel team more regularly than my mum, and it’s true. Probably tenfold more. The perception could be that we just chuck paint at the wall and see what sticks, but no. We think extremely carefully about every single slot and all the permutations that circle it.
Can we fly in Courtesy and Joey Anderson especially? Will Karen Gwyer’s rack of equipment hit a late-afternoon glare on our cameras? Is Special Request good to take it to 200bpm+? Has it been long enough to feature Xosar again (we’ve waited much too long really), and is it the right time to finally have Identified Patient (ditto)? If anything, we place stabilisers on our own imagination to not gorge on the gourmet buffet of available artists and just go for broke with the big guns. I saw some murmurs of dissent during last year’s announcement that Peggy Gou and Helena Hauff were a step backward from the Klocks and MCDEs of the world. Funny, isn’t it, how things can change!
2017’s edition crystallised something in my mind that made me appreciate the annual wacky DF x BR crossover episode even more. Being honest, it can be a challenge re-engaging support amongst the jaded in our pocket of the scene. For all the positives that global expansion has brought, Boiler Room has long since forfeited the underdog card. We’re not oblivious to that. It’s tangibly more exciting when your favourite basement club pulls off a worldie of a booking, your favourite independent zine snags an A-lister on the cover, or your favourite online radio station has a legend casually drop in to guest. Good guys notching wins feels good, right? Even seeing D.A.F., Robert Glasper and British Murder Boys on the cards for Dekmantel’s wider programme made me more excited in some respects than what we were doing. Peering over the fence at your hipper neighbour’s well-adorned yard with a big head nod of begrudging respect: it’s natural.
And yet, something about that little corrugated shed under the trees refreshes the script. The buzz it generates is uncommon, and it’s a lovely thing. The setting has its own character and charm, and it seems to provoke an additional spark that pushes exceptional talents to play out their skin, and with a bit of luck, pushes them onto even higher trajectories. Thousands of people lock in from thousands of miles away to watch twenty or so artists get their shine in the warm Dutch sun, and speak about it excitedly and organically – just like they used to, in a blessed land before content became a corrupted word. There’s a reason that, even as we have significantly winnowed the amount of festival partnerships we take on year by year, Dekmantel Festival has been a no-brainer all along. It’s taken on a life of its own.
The stage has conjured up so many of its own little niches in recent years: the legends slot, the local upstart warming the levels, the curveball b2b, the speaker-dancers, the crowdsurfing, the all. I have so many fond memories etched into my retinas: of aunties, uncles and grandmothers of the Hood family, flown over from Alabama to watch Lyric play with Robert, jostling for space in the cramped side-alley next to Ricardo Villalobos; of man-mountain Matrixxman excitedly bowing to a beaming, DJ Nobu as they changed over under a warm red glow; of blazed Bahar, tripping Traxx and joyous Jayda; of Nina Kraviz and our own Michail Stangl singing their hearts out to I-F as he span Depeche Mode; I mean fuck, of the entire manic sprint around Nina’s 11th hour appearance last year (you’ll have to hit me privately for that).
It does feel a bit like the World Cup: you can stake an intelligent guess on who will romp home as the talking points, but surprise breakouts invariably happen too. There are some first time appearances on BR.TV for auteurs who are making a huge stir in their home towns, and we’re excited to help get the word out. To name but a few, look to Phuong-Dan in Hamburg, Cashu in São Paulo, Raphaël Top-Secret in Paris, and Elena Colombi in London. On top of that, we have representatives from some of the world’s best record labels showing their wares: Danny Daze repping Omnidisc, Jamie Tiller repping Music From Memory, Rødhåd repping Dystopian. It’s a wonderful jumble.
As ever, we continue in the vein of pacing each day on what feels right, rather than by some metric or price bracket. The kids that turn out for their heroes but stick around to check the skill set of who’s up next, even if it’s a complete unknown in their books – utmost respect to you. Mr. Scruff graciously flies in at crack of dawn from a show in Ireland to gee the crowd up for Carista, who will be beaming as much while playing as you should by watching her. Mama Snake and David Vunk are set to unload their inimitable variety of high-intensity destruction after ever-present veteran Tom Trago. Skatebård will find himself the sundown filling in a Dam-Funk / Palms Trax superstar sandwich. I wouldn’t have it any other way. (And yes Palms Trax: we will provide a fan this year. Our bad the last 17 times!)
Thanks as ever to the artists who find pockets of space in their whirlwind schedule to make the magic happen, the tireless army of kind helpers on site, the agents and managers and press people who take no cut for a day – and all the dancers joining us, whether between the trees or in their kitchens. Hope you enjoy 2018 just as much, if not more, than you enjoyed the last five. Otherwise, what’s the point?